Wednesday, March 04, 2009

An excess of silliness: beer styles

The Periodic Table of Elements lists 117 basic chemical compounds elements of nature, including two new discoveries in 2008.

But the Brewers Association (the BA), an advocacy group for small brewers in the US lists ...

... ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY different and unique styles of beer, some newly 'discovered' for 2009. I'm going to call it the beer stimulus plan.

It was only last year that the Great American Beer Festival (organized by the BA) had recognized --a mere-- 100 styles, a number I had then thought self-indulgent.

I took the bait recently when I was challenged by someone who knew my position. "Well, how many beer styles should there be," he asked. I offered a small number.

What I should have said, and do say now, is that the question itself is flawed.

Styles, historically, were not necessarily legal codifications but measures of provenance. Of course there were purity laws, and tax laws, and monopolistic grants. But it was what the local water, what the local economy, what the land, and what exigency would bear and allow to flourish that determined 'style'.

A beer is what the brewer says it is, as tempered by the success the brewer has in sharing that 'belief' with a drinker. But is it a style?

Styles, now, at least in the US, seem to be determined by formalistic minutiae, and, once in place, fiercely defended by the killer phrase "not to style".

Here, instead, would be my parameters of 'style' flavor:

  • light-hued
  • amber (or off-light)
  • dark
  • session-strength
  • strong
  • aged
  • fresh (meaning beer served within weeks of production)
  • roasted
  • sour
  • spiced
  • hoppy (bitter and/or aromatic)
I'll leave it to a mathematician to determine the number of combinations ... a number which will dwarf the 140 of the Brewers Association.

The press release from the BA:

The 2009 Beer Style Guidelines have now been released. Many categories were further refined and two new categories were added: American-Belgo Styles Dark Ales and Session Beer. Revisions and additions
reflect industry trends and the concerns of judges in various national and international competitions.

1 comment:

  1. Amen, brother. I quoted you in my blog. But a nitpick: The Periodic Table lists elements. Compounds are combinations of two or more elements in the form of molecules. Back to chemistry 101 for you, I guess.


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